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Using improv comedy to gain new social and creative skills

Employees across the U.S. are using improv comedy as a tool for increasing their confidence and becoming more extroverted.
Posted at 9:24 PM, Mar 28, 2023

When thinking of improv comedy, most people would probably think of a funny, witty person performing a stand up routine. But more people and companies are using improv for other reasons.

At The Groundlings, a premier improv studio in Los Angeles, actors come to refine their skills, and everyday people come to explore something new about the field and themselves.

"Improv is creativity," said Lauren Burns, an actor, writer and director. "It's joy. It's a way to connect with other human beings and explore something that's never been explored before."

A 2020 study published in the journal Thinking Skills and Creativity found just 20 minutes of improv can improve a person's creative thinking and how they come up with solutions. The study also found improv can reduce social anxiety, increase tolerance of uncertainty and stabilize emotions — all things that all transcend the desire to be funny.

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"Whether it's corporate or whether it's acting, we're not teaching people how to be funny or to think fast or be clever and witty," said David Jahn, an instructor at The Groundlings. "We're teaching people how to communicate on a much more visceral level."

At The Groundlings, Jahn primarily focuses on training Fortune 500 companies. He pushes their creative collaboration to help participants hopefully take benefits back to the workplace. They're benefits that Burns has also taken home with her, as a woman and as a mom.

"A big component of improv is to not plan and just sort of live in this gray area where you're just present," she said. "Growing up and being a woman and being very aware of what my next move should be, about how I'm being perceived… really letting go of all of that and trying to get in this space of just accepting the circumstance — it's going to be okay — and letting go and seeing how that translated into other parts of my life too was sort of magical."

The practice for the companies typically includes a back-and-forth, fast-moving conversation trying to connect two words, with mess ups being part of the learning process that makes improv so helpful to those who pursue it.

The challenging, nerve-wracking and wildly different practice for some employees can and has promoted growth in people across the country, as they work to discover new skills they can use every day.